Spotlight on Riesling: Karthauserhoff Eitelsbacher Karthauserhoffberg Riesling Auslese 2007

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After all my voyages through tastings wines from obscure varieties and small regions across Europe and elsewhere, I find my love for white wine can be expressed as a simple binary choice: Chardonnay or Riesling. The beauty and variation of both of these grapes captures almost all that is joyful about white wine. Both grapes have a profound range of flavours, but Riesling’s uniqueness lies in its singular ability to combine ethereal gossamer texture (and low alcohol) with extremely powerful and lengthy flavours that both evolve considerably over an evening and over decades in the bottle.

Riesling also has the greatest structure of any wine, but that structure can vary with the site and the climate. Wines from the Mosel, for example, can fairly be described as gothic. In Alsace, on the other hand, it is fair to compare the wines with Renaissance architecture: a perspectival complexity in which each sip in each moment provides its own inspiring but uniquely situated illusion of the whole.

The old 1960’s archetype of Riesling is, of course, the insipid Blue Nun and Black Tower and it is amazing to think that North Americans were first introduced to Riesling through these sweetened monstrosities. Perhaps this provides an explanation why Riesling still suffers from low sales volumes despite the fact that it competes with Chardonnay for the greatest white grape in the world.

If I trace my own path into Riesling appreciation we would begin with Sushi. Vancouver is the perfect place to drink Riesling, though almost no one realizes this. Our plethora of quality Japanese food, Vietnamese, Chinese and general love of an proximity to seafood and fish means that we should be drinking Riesling far more often. My first experience with truly understanding riesling was when I paired a dry Australian riesling from Great Southern with classic maki rolls from a favourite sushi joint. The cleanliness and linearity of the wine paired perfectly with the fatty richness of the sushi fish but also the subtlety of the rice (much like a very dry Sapporo, but with far greater complexity). It was in this moment that I realized Riesling was an extremely underappreciated grape.

Deciphering the Genius of Germany

I’ve been reluctant to begin this spotlight simply because Riesling, while being truly amazing, is also an incredibly complex grape with a long history and a varied and hard to understand relationship with soil, site, aspect and climate. So perhaps it is fitting that I begin with a German Riesling from the German Ruwer region in the Mosel valley, and from one of my favourite producers: Karthauserhoff.

This is a wine that belies the unfairly maligned Auslese category of wines. It is not a “sweet” wine, even though it carries considerable residual sugar compared to other whites. Therein lies the trick of Riesling. More than any other grape, Riesling is a vehicle for acid. In fact, it is such a perfect vehicle for acid that it can have difficulty managing it, as with the 2010 vintage in the Mosel where vintners sometimes needed to deacidulate their wines to make them drinkable.

Thus, when you drink a truly great Auslese riesling, your mind does not immediately turn to ‘sweetness’ but rather to length and complexity. And, with time, a truly great Auslese Riesling produces secondary waxy, honeyed and mineral flavours that are unlike any other wine in the world.

This wine was only at the beginning of its development, but it showed extremely well. Karthauserhoff dates from the 14th century. In classic style, the winery started with monks and then was auctioned off after Napoleon conquered that part of Prussia. It has then since passed from one family to another in a classically European manner. In the 1980’s all of the various vineyard holdings were consolidated into one giant vineyard called Karthauserhoffberg, which makes this winery one of the easier to understand in the Mosel – Saar – Ruwer region, at least in respect to vineyard. Of course, this would not be a German enterprise if everything was easy. Karthauserhoff makes dozens of wines, some are even bottles from individual foudre, and labeled as such, making the whole endeavour of understanding much of anything a complete fiasco.

In the end, all that really matters is that this is a stunning example of Auselse Riesling from Ruwer and a beautifully persistent wine that pairs with everything that makes B.C. what it is (along with a few East Indian dishes). I can’t recommend it more highly.

Excellent to Excellent+
$65 at Liberty Wines

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